“Carpets that Make the People”

At M7, where Arab Design Now puts the spotlight on talent from the region, another exhibition that is part of Design Doha 2024 called “Weaving Poems” set in a large dark gallery on the second floor could be overlooked.  A room filled with sounds of poems and carpets, this seems like a setting from a mysterious fable. Thin shafts of light percolating within the room falls on bursts of colourful weaves and pushes one to find out more, to explore the stories behind the poems playing in the background and the carpets that hold centre-court.

Oh, my Flower, Spring has come, Spring has come!

Oh, my flower! The time for labour and farming has come!

My Friend, come! Let’s weave the carpet.

My Flower, See, countless flowers have come.

Carpets that translate this simple song along with other traditional folklore that is hummed by the community of women weavers in Bamiyan, Afghanistan takes centre stage in this museum-like setting at M7.

Weaving Poems is an installation by Afghan-born, Amman-based designer Maryam Omar who evokes this atmosphere through carpets, directing the skills of talented women carpet weavers from the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan. These traditional poems that reflect the folklore of the community finds their way into the carpets, their livelihoods in this region.

Maryam Omar is an Afghan-British designer who worked for ten years alongside carpet weaving communities in Afghanistan, honing her skill and knowledge of different weaving techniques.

“There is a carpet community in Bamiyan region of Afghanistan whose ongoing project commenced, and when they did not have other work to continue with, Turquoise Mountain, a non-profit charity that supports artisans reviving traditional craftsmanship, came in to continue with the work they were familiar with,” explains Maryam.

Maryam as the Head of Design at Turquoise Mountains used her knowledge of weaving to create designs that could be translated onto carpets. And for this project she dived into the daily life routines of the carpet weaving women and paid homage to their tradition, their deep community ties, the beautiful landscape of Bamiyan, the sky, the mountains, the plants and the process of weaving, incorporating all these representations with colours and patterns and wefts through the carpets.

Maryam borrowed elements from their songs and translated it into visual elements and the women of the carpet community took on the task of translating the designs as a personal project. “They become part of the carpets themselves, as if they wove themselves and their stories into it. This is a very personal project for the women,” says Maryam who was involved from the initiation to the end of this project.

She says that at times, it felt as though the women who made the carpets were weaving a part of themselves into it.

“The weaving community was already set up and the facility was ready to take in more work. We tested  them and they did exceptionally well. Another feature of the Bamiyan region is that they know a new weave called the flat weave which works very well for us. It has a different texture that works very well commercially,” explains Maryam about the weaving community that has produced the collection.

“I experimented with water colour, gouache, ink art paper and ceramic plates to create waves and sweeps of colour. Some of the work was inspired by the serene landscape of Bamiyan, for which I used overlapping, soft forms to reflect valleys and natural features. The references to fish and shadows of weaves are more recognizable, together with the script of the poetry. All the sketches were photographed and manipulated digitally to create the final designs and transferred to a carpet graphing software to get the desired effect.”

The graphs are then printed onto large-scale paper from which the weavers read and hand-knot the carpets by eye.

“We always give them work to keep them busy but this time the weaving involved a lot of interaction as the subject chosen was themselves. They were all very animated in helping me collect poems. The subjects ranged from dragons in the valley to everyday life and all of it is translated into the carpets,” says Maryam as she takes us through the display.

Turquoise Mountain was founded in 2006 by His Majesty King Charles III to revive historic areas and traditional crafts, to provide jobs, skills and a renewed sense of pride.

Since 2006, Turquoise Mountain has restored over 150 historic buildings, trained over 15,000 artisans, treated over 165,000 patients in Kabul clinic, and supported and generated over $17 million in sales of traditional crafts to international clients, including Kate Spade and London’s Connaught Hotel. Turquoise Mountain has also curated major international exhibitions at museums around the world, from the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Turquoise Mountain has a partnership with Qatar Museums, under the guidance of HH Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani through funding from the Qatar Fund for Development to support weaving communities in Afghanistan.

Images Courtesy Turquoise Mountain